Woman sitting in her home office working on her laptop and wearing headphones.
From creating an agenda to follow to inviting only the necessary attendees, there are several ways to ensure your remote meetings run smoothly and productively. — Getty Images/Alistair Berg

Remote meetings can often be more challenging than meeting in person. Connectivity issues, time zone differences, and off-screen distractions can easily disrupt and sidetrack the conversation. Some members may struggle to find the right moment to speak up and share their ideas while others are talking. Fortunately, there are ways to manage remote meetings better to make sure everyone is heard and the time is used wisely.

Keep the required guest list small

Be judicious in who you invite to your remote meetings. Research by MIT Sloan found that remote meetings plummet in quality with more people in attendance. And the benefit of video calls is that they can be recorded and sent around to those who may be interested.

“Let nonessential members off the hook and share the recording so they can listen at their convenience rather than interrupt their flow,” wrote MIT Sloan. “However — and this is key — to avoid any feelings of marginalization on behalf of team members who weren’t invited to a particular meeting, give them the option to attend any future meetings on the topic if they so desire.”

When you send around a calendar invite, make it clear which participants are required to attend for the meeting to be productive, and for whom the meeting is optional.

Build a (separate) space for social interactions

In an in-person office, there’s time throughout the day for casual social interactions. This space is often lost in remote offices — but it’s incredibly valuable for productive meetings.

“One study found that workers who shared a funny or embarrassing story about themselves with their team produced 26% more ideas in brainstorming sessions than workers who didn’t,” wrote Slack. “But remote team members don’t necessarily have those opportunities, which is why leaders and managers have to be proactive and create them. If most team members haven’t spoken or met before, they’ll likely be reluctant to share or debate ideas in front of others.”

[Read more: 7 Tools That Will Help You Work From Home]

There are a few ways to encourage social interaction among remote teams that lead to better meetings. You could set up an additional 10 minutes of time before a meeting for people to catch up and chat. You could also set up a separate chat on Teams, Slack, or the remote work tool of your choice, where employees are encouraged to connect. Find a separate space for unstructured conversation to keep the structure of your meetings intact.

Research by MIT Sloan found that remote meetings plummet in quality with more people in attendance. And the benefit of video calls is that they can be recorded and sent around to those who may be interested.

Use video

Some employees may resist the idea of having video on, but it’s important for team members to see each other during meetings. Without video, it’s more difficult to gauge each person’s reaction to the ideas presented. It’s also easy for people to stop paying attention or to multitask during the meeting. Video adds necessary accountability. Just make sure everyone knows in advance of the session that video will be required.

Use an agenda religiously

Agendas are critical to any meeting, remote or otherwise. Send a structured agenda with the key outcomes to all participants before the meeting starts. Experts at MIT Sloan suggest framing the agenda as a set of questions to be answered, rather than topics to discuss. Structuring your agenda as questions makes it clear if the objectives of the meeting have been accomplished, or if more questions are raised — necessitating further discussion.

Book time for technological issues

Create a 10-minute buffer at the start of the meeting for people to get their video and audio feeds working properly. If you know that you will need at least 30 minutes to get through the agenda, book a 35-40 minute time slot in participants’ calendars. Work with the presenter to make sure they’re able to share their screen, if necessary, and to test their connection speed ahead of the call. Things can still go wrong even when everyone says their software is up to date, so make sure you’ve set aside extra time to troubleshoot.

[Read more: 6 Tips to Improve Your Team’s Remote Communication]

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Published October 14, 2022